Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Testimony Versus Historicity

In this and other cases, including the Gospels, testimony asks to be trusted.  It does not consist in the presentation of evidence and argument for what only the witness, the involved insider, can tell us.  In all cases, including even the law courts, testimony can be checked and assessed in appropriate ways but nevertheless has to be trusted.  In the unique events we are considering, this is all the more true.  To insist, with some Gospel critics, that the historicity of each and every Gospel periscope must be established, one by one, with arguments for each, is not to recognize testimony for what it necessarily is.  It is to suppose that we can extract individual facts from testimony and build our own reconstruction of events that is no longer dependent upon the witness.  It is to refuse that privileged access to truth that precisely participant testimony can give us.  Ancient historiography rightly valued such testimony as essential to good history...

--Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony  p. 502


Bauckham has definitively destroyed the underlying assumptions for the quests of the Historical Jesus by rightly defining the Gospels not as history or mythology, but as stories based upon eyewitness testimony (Mark, Matthew, Luke) and by an eyewitness (John). 

I am in agreement with Timothy Keller that this book will take a number of years to infiltrate current biblical scholarship, and it will be a new generation of biblical scholars who will carry this torch as it (hopefully) blossoms into a roaring fire.  Yeah, it's that good.

It stands in sharp contrast to those who have undertaken the quest for the "historical Jesus."  Those who undertake this task approach the gospel narratives with a skeptical nature--that they are narratives which include embellishment and perspectives of communities of faith instead of the reports of individual, eyewitness testimony.  The task of the person/scholar searching for the "historical" Jesus is to wade through the mud and the muck in order to find the true jewels or authentic sayings and deeds of Jesus. 

This Jesus historian then must reconstruct Jesus based upon those nuggets.  So, you have a book like Marcus Borg's Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and The God We Never Knew.  In each of these books, Borg reconstructs Jesus and God giving us a picture of a Jesus we never knew and a God we never knew. 


Of course we never knew THAT Jesus and THAT God.  They are Borg's reconstructions of Jesus and God.  As such, they are Borg's Jesus and Borg's God not the God of scripture.

Plenty of folks have met Jesus through the Gospel accounts.  Plenty of folks have met God through the biblical account, but they haven't met Borg's God and Borg's Jesus for obvious reasons.

Yet, Borg and others like him have garnered a hefty following in certain Christian circles.  It's not surprising.  (See: How Do Bad Ideas Continue to Stick Around)  

Bauckham turns the tables and argues quite successfully that the Gospels demand to be approached with trust instead of skepticism--just as a person approaches another's testimony with trust unless given a reason to the contrary.  Changing the assumption of how one approaches these documents changes the game--completely.

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